May 24, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: Morsi’s First 100 Days
Posted on Oct 16, 2012
As we saw people gathering rocks, I showed PF the script I had written for him. “Is that OK?” I asked. PF had a few questions and soon after I answered them, we heard our cue to go.
“Egypt elected Morsi,” some protesters yelled. “He is our democratic president! If you want to hurt him you are traitors and spies!” There was that word—spies—that my friends and I had agreed to exit upon encountering. We nodded to one another. “Go safely and with peace,” we said to PF and Hassan, who headed off in a different direction from us. Mohamed and Amr sandwich-walked me as we skirted scuffles and lots of glares. But a stray rock still caught me on the elbow. “What the hell are you doing?” I shouted in Arabic at the guy I thought threw it. Amr tried to shush me, but I was too angry to be rational. “Who are you throwing at?” I yelled. I could have gotten a ballistic reaction, but a guy responded, “Sorry, sorry, we didn’t mean to hit you” as he and others picked up more rocks and my friends shuffled me out. We went past the scattered shouting matches in the street beyond the buses, one of which was now burning, and back to the metro.
It was dark by the time I left my protectors, and I decided to go get a coffee on the upscale other side of the tracks from my home. The privileged people in the cafe there were disgusted because they had learned that the Muslim Brotherhood had called on social media sites for its followers to show up to protest Friday, designating a time and a meeting spot at Tahrir Square. The demonstrators intended to go from there to the court, the social media posts said, to protest the camel battle acquittal and to demand the removal of Mahmoud. The people in the cafe were annoyed that now the Muslim Brotherhood was denying that any of its members were present in Tahrir Square! “It’s still the same, lies and lies” was the general sentiment in the cafe. One customer looking at his iPad said the anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters were destroying the group’s Freedom and Justice Party headquarters in the city of Mahalla al-Kobra.
Even the patrons in this cafe, who could afford a pricey latte while the shoeless beggar children were chased away, said they felt the effects of the poor state of the economy.
Coming out of the tunnel with relief, I loosened my face covering now that I was back among my neighbors, who normally greet me cheerily and do not care about Tahrir Square.
My phone rang. It was PF.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“At the hotel,” he said. “It went very well. It has all died down now. That was weird. They were all protesting the same things. Except the Islamist loyalty to the Muslim Brotherhood, but it really was hard to tell who they were throwing rocks at. You could only tell the MB members with the big beards.”
“Well, I hope it serves you,” I said, changing the subject, saturation achieved, job finished.
As I was on the phone with PF and about to enter my apartment building, the electricity of the whole sector blacked out with the usual loud clang. As happened most nights, voices raised in unison grumbled and complained in the dark. Cars honked. I sat down on the bench in front of my building next to the security guard and his friends, who had a small garbage fire going, and searched for my flashlight as I talked with PF.
He told me he had seen a campaign commercial for Mitt Romney that said President Obama’s friendship with the Arab world was responsible for the American ambassador’s death in Libya.
“That’s ugly,” I responded. “Anyway, I will be there in a few weeks to see what happens.”
In the morning I had an interview with an authority from the Egyptian Ministry of Electricity and Energy who had said he would tell me the truth about the fuel shortage if I didn’t use his name. I wanted to get online so I could get some background information to prepare for the meeting. I hoped the blackout wouldn’t last too long. The night before it had gone on for an hour and a half.
“Then I will see you in Paris,” I told PF.
“That would be great. We will have a drink,” he said.
I cringed uncomfortably at the mention of alcohol as I looked around guiltily at the people who don’t understand a word of French or English and at the three surrounding mosques.
I said “au revoir” to PF and then climbed five flights of stairs in the sooty dark to my apartment as the evening call to prayer began from all sides without speakers.
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